Monday, June 09, 2014

Goin' to the Courthouse...

10/31/14 UPDATE: On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), declined to hear several cases appealing lower court rulings which had struck down same sex marriage bans. In this state, all counties immediately began processing marriage license applications from same sex couples, though few are waiving the waiting period to receive a license. In this month I've attended two weddings for same sex couples which made legal what had already previously been celebrated in religious ceremonies. And I had the joy & privilege of officiating at such a wedding for two good friends, together for almost 30 years, married in a religious ceremony 23 years ago, now FINALLY legally married in the eyes of the state. 

What a wild ride!
On Friday, June 6, 2014, U.S. District Court judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in a case brought by the ACLU, declaring the State of Wisconsin’s same sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional.

I was at a 5pm wedding rehearsal when I got a text from a colleague, sharing the good news. But then we wondered, what do we do??? The County Clerks for the two population centers (Dane and Milwaukee counties, with courts in the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, respectively) were staying open ‘til 9pm, and planning to open again on Saturday morning to issue marriage licenses, waiving the usual 5 day waiting period.

No way to know when (or if) the ruling would be stayed pending appeal. The judge had declined to immediately stay her own ruling, which the WI Attorney General had requested. But there are never any guarantees. A recent ruling in Michigan had opened a window of only 10 hours for gay and lesbian couples to marry, before a stay was issued.

It was way too late for either of us to make the trek on Friday evening, but we planned to reconsider in the morning. In the morning, we both drove into Milwaukee, not knowing quite what we’d be able to do – but trusting that we’d be able to help, somehow. My dear spouse came along with me, saying he’d act as my support staff. I was grateful for him, carrying tissues and a camera and extra black pens!

While I was there I was privileged to officiate for three couples. Two couples had been together for about a decade, one for about three years. The two lesbian couples had had symbolic ceremonies when they applied for domestic partnership status. The gay male couple hadn’t had any previous ceremony, and interestingly opted for my longer, more traditional service. My good colleague was able to officiate for 8 couples, including two couples from the congregation we serve! News video of same sex marriages in Milwaukee

The joy was palpable, and contagious. I would have stayed longer, but there was the previously scheduled wedding… 80 miles away! As I sped off to that location to officiate for a young, straight couple, I rode an adrenaline high. They asked if I’d done any other weddings, and were happy to know I had!

Sunday church was JOYFUL! My colleague and I, along with another colleague, made plans to go to our local county courthouse Monday morning – just in case our services were needed. Bear in mind that this county is one of the “reddest” in the United States.

At first this morning, things did not look good. While the Clerk’s office opened at 8am, she refused to issue any licenses until getting advice from the County’s Corporate Counsel. At 9am, she told us and the two couples waiting at the time that she would issue licenses, but not waive the 5 day waiting period. About a half hour later, after receiving more legal advice, she began waiving the waiting period.

I was asked to officiate for a young lesbian couple, while my colleague and a news photographer signed as their witnesses! My colleague officiated for two other lesbian couples, one of them from our church! Our other colleague officiated for two men, while my colleague and I served as their witnesses! (One of the men was just amazed that three women, all ministers, were willing – no, thrilled – to help him and his partner get married, giving their relationship a legal status in the eyes of the government. He kept telling us we were a blessing. Finally, I told him we were blessed to be part of their joy.)

Miracle of miracles, the Register of Deeds was processing returned licenses while couples waited. So every couple was able to leave with certified copies of their marriage certificates, rather than waiting for the typical 2-3 day turnaround.

We hung around through the lunch hour, but by then the few couples arriving were coming with their own officiants. We all left around 1pm, feeling like we’d done just a little bit to bring more happiness and joy into a few people’s lives. As I write this, the courthouse is about to close, and stopped taking any applications for licenses a half hour ago.

Some counties in the state are still not issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Other counties are issuing licenses, but not waiving the waiting period. We don’t know how long this window of opportunity will last. But, we have not merely witnessed history. We have participated in it.

Love Wins. Eventually.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Breaking "Blog Silence" - In Memoriam

On January 8th my mother passed away. She was 88 years old, and had lived a full life. I've written about her before, and decided some time ago that I wanted to give a eulogy for her when the time came. This is what I wrote for that eulogy - delivered at her funeral, officiated by her Lutheran pastor, a week after her passing...

Betty, Daughter, Widow, Sister, Mother, Grandmother – Grandma, Great Grandmother - G.G.,
Who loved her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, music, birds, dogs, and angels… has died.
We’re here today to share our memories, to laugh and cry together, to hold one another as we grieve. As a minister, I write eulogies and conduct memorial services; yet, it is a little odd and scary to be eulogizing my mother today.
Betty was born on June 23, 1925. As a child, she played with friends, went to school, and did all the normal things that an average girl of her era would do. Her family was never well off, so these things included collecting bottles from around the parking lot of the nearby tavern on Saturday and Sunday mornings, then turning the bottles in for the deposit money. As she grew, she learned to cook and clean and sew – all skills that were useful when she left school at the age of 15 to work variously as a resort maid, babysitter, and housekeeper, before taking a job at the chicken farm.
It was at the farm where she first met two brothers, who introduced her to their younger brother, Virgil. She and Virgil dated, and when he and his brothers enlisted in the Army, he asked her to marry him. In October, 1943, due to be sent to Europe, Virgil came home for a few days’ leave. They got a marriage license and walked to the parsonage of the Old Brick Church with Mom’s brother and his wife, and were married.
Almost two years later, their son – my brother – was born and named after our dad. After the war ended, Mom moved as Dad took different jobs on farms, until the late 1950’s when he began working at the GM plant. I was born shortly before they bought their home in The Grove, and that’s where we lived while my brother finished high school and I grew up.
Eventually, she and Dad were able to fulfill a long-time dream after their retirement. They moved to Up North to a small home on a small lake. It was supposed to be their time to relax, fish a little, travel a little, and enjoy life.  And for a time they were able to live their ideal life. Then Dad’s health problems intervened, and they moved back south, living with my Uncle Bill until they purchased their own home.
Mom – and Dad – were family-centered people. Mom would sometimes make a big pot of soup, then call nieces and nephews to come over for a pot luck meal. Our immediate family, plus some extended family, would make it an evening – eating together, then playing a few games of three-deck Canasta. More than one of my cousins looked forward to those meals and casual evenings. I looked forward to being asked to sit in for a hand or two, while someone tended a baby.
Mom loved her children – and was thrilled to become a grandmother. I know that she shared a special bond with all of her six grandchildren, and she always remembered them on birthdays and holidays. She had a big heart – and opened it to new members of the family easily. When grandchildren started marrying, she welcomed their spouses with open arms. I know that the weddings she was able to attend were particularly special to her, and she was overjoyed to be at those special occasions. She was thrilled when great-grandchildren arrived!
Mom’s love and care wasn’t restricted to human members of the family, either. We always had pets - some of our dogs showed up at the back door, lost and hungry; others came from the Humane Society. Some of you may not remember that Mom also had birds a long time ago. Though she stopped keeping birds in the house, she remained keenly interested in the activities of birds in her yard, and kept feeders filled for them.
Focusing on her family, Mom wasn’t active out in the community until later in her life. When they settled into life here, they signed up with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and began helping with the senior lunches at one of the churches in town, and walking at First Lutheran together. After Dad passed away, Mom stopped volunteering for a short time – then signed up as a Book Buddy, helping students with learning how to read at one of the elementary schools. Somewhere in there, she became fascinated with angels – and amassed quite a collection of angel figures over the past decade or so.
What I will remember about Mom, though, is her resilience. She never had an easy life. Mom was not like a delicate, fragile china cup, she was like the thick, heavy mugs used at diners. You know the kind – made to survive having countless servings of strong coffee poured into them, often chipped a little on the side after being dropped a few times. She lived through the deaths of her own parents, who I barely remember. She was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 40 years ago, back when survival rates weren’t as good as they are now, and endured surgery and treatment without complaint. She survived the loss of her husband almost 17 years ago, and so many other challenges and losses. I’m sure there were some we never knew about, too. Every time, she simply accepted what she couldn’t change, and looked forward to the better days she was sure would come.
When I officiate at memorial services I often begin – or end - by saying:
“Birth is a miracle of love and courage, bringing light into the world;
Death is a loss of light, but no less an act of courage,
For we are born from – and return to – mystery.”
Betty brought light into the world, lived her 88 years of life to the fullest, with great love. We are lucky to have been part of that life, to have borne witness to her commitment to family, her kindness and her courage. The one thing she wanted was to continue living in her own home to the end. I’m glad that we were able to make that happen for her, with the generous help of her caregiver.
What she taught us was to live life open-hearted, to love generously. What I know is that, while she is gone, the love she gave is not. Love lives on, love never dies.
Mom is gone, but her light and love lives on in those of us left behind. Let us honor her memory with our lives, living with courage and great love.





Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayer after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

"...A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."
~Jeremiah 21:15

Spirit of life and love, always with us, as close as our very breath –
Tonight we gather with heavy hearts and tear-filled eyes, shocked by an act of violence that has left 20 children and at least 6 adults dead, an act of violence in what should have been a safe place – a school. Twenty children who will not finish celebrating Hannukah, who will not celebrate Christmas, who will not see the days begin to grow longer after the Winter Solstice; twenty children for whom Advent is over. There is so much we don’t know, and truly it is incomprehensible why someone would open fire on two classrooms of small children.

What we know is that we are here, together. We know those of us who have small children will be holding them a little closer, a little longer, tonight. We know that all of this is easier to bear in community. And we pray...
We pray for the children;
We pray for the children who lost classmates, friends, brothers and sisters;
We pray for the parents and grandparents who lost children, whose friends lost children;
We pray for the other teachers and staff at the school, who lost co-workers and students;
We pray for the first responders, the police and medical personnel, who work fiercely to save lives – and grieve when they cannot;
We pray for the town of Newtown, Connecticut, which must cope and grieve with the eyes of the world upon them;
We pray for the person who committed this heinous act, and for the family members he left behind who must be struggling to understand in their own shock and grief;
And in the silence, let us pray our own prayers...

Spirit of life and love,
Lift us up in our grief and confusion, help us find a ray of hope,
that we might find a way to honor the lives cut short.
Strengthen our families, that we might live and love without fear.
Hold us in your loving embrace, as we, like Rachel,
cry for the children who are no more.

Blessed Be, Shalom, and Amen.


Friday, December 07, 2012

One More Step - and maybe another

Anyone who has read this blog in the past knows that I've long been a supporter of marriage equality. My consciousness was first raised on this subject by college friends over three decades ago, when my spouse and I were planning our own wedding. You can read about my journey here. My home state, unfortunately, was in the first or second wave of states which passed amendments which enshrined discrimination in our state constitution. Members of my home congregation, and the congregation I currently serve, and I were all active in working against it, unsuccessfully.

Over the past several years I've preached and written blog posts on the topic, prayed with folks after the losses at the ballot box, and given money and time to efforts for marriage equality. Good friends from seminary have entered into civil unions; and colleagues of mine have had the joy and privilege of signing legal documents joining couples in civil unions and legal marriages in other states.

I have also officiated at weddings for gay and lesbian couples, but there has been no legal paperwork involved. The (non-heterosexual) couples I've married have gained no legal rights, and no recognition of changed status. What I can offer is counseling, a ceremony in which I state, "While today's ceremony confers no legal position in this state, this is a wedding. This congregation, and I as one of its ministers, consider this ceremony just as sacred and binding - and will consider this marriage just as valid - as those authorized by the state;" and my assurance that I will be happy to complete legal paperwork for them when that is possible.

Recently, marriage equality was on the ballot in four more states. Minnesota's ballot, like my state years ago, asked voters to place the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in the state constitution. This time, though, the amendment was defeated! Now, marriage between two people of the same sex is still illegal by statute - but it's not in the Minnesota constitution. Additionally, voters in Maryland, Washington, and Maine all approved marriage equality measures, and marriage licenses began to be issued Maryland and Washington this week. Four victories for marriage equality!

Once more, as I watch news video and read the accounts, I am struck by the faces of the people who are acquiring marriage licenses. This article is a case in point. The photo at the top of the article shows two bearded men, wearing flannel shirts, zippered jackets and camo print ball caps. The expression on their faces is solemn, but look at their eyes and what do you see? I see hope tinged with caution, as though they can still barely believe that after a decade together they are going to be able to have their loving relationship recognized by the state.

Flip through the other photos, and look at those faces. Notice that they are startlingly "ordinary." By that, I mean they do not conform to homogenous stereotypes of gays or lesbians. They are young, old, and in between. They are of varying ethnicities.  They look like my neighbors, my congregants, and my friends and family. Many of these couples have been together for decades, and probably would be married if the law had allowed it. Look at their hope, look at the love and joy shining in their weary eyes - for these photos were taken in the wee hours of the morning! These are couples who know commitment, who know love, who have cared for one another. It's a beautiful thing, and I'm very glad for them.

And today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced that it would review the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down California's Proposition 8. It will also review the case of Windsor v US, regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Some of my friends are concerned, and apprehensive. A couple are hopeful. I'm choosing to be cautiously optimistic. I look forward to the day when I can officiate for two women, or two men, AND know that the state will recognize them as legal spouses. The moral arc of the universe is bending, may it bend further toward equality - and soon.

Blessed Be.

(Yes, this last video is a commercial. But it's lovely, and I've always bristled at the arguments about religious freedom and marriage equality, which never acknowledge that for some of us being unable to legally solemnize a union between two men or two women infringed on our religious freedom...)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Prayer - Practicing Radical Hospitality

(Our worship theme for October has been "Living our UU Faith: Practicing Radical Hospitality." This was the prayer I wrote for Sunday, Oct. 7th. We also lit a candle for National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th), and acknowledged our congregation's six years of officially being a Welcoming Congregation.)

Spirit of Life and Love,
always present and as close as our very breath -

Breath made visible in the early mornings now,
as the temperatures dip lower and the leaves
loose their grip on tree branches.

We are gathered here to worship, to celebrate,
and to contemplete, in community.
We offer one another greetings, recognizing
one another's faces, and extending
our warm welcome to those who come as strangers.  

Remind us, Spirit of Love,
that we, too, were once strangers.
Some of us still harbor estrangements in our lives -
from those once close to us, or our neighbors,
or even from parts of ourselves.
Help us consider the gifts we are rejecting,
and the whisperings of our own still, small voices
in this shared silence...


Spirit of Life and Love,
Let those who come now know: you are safe here,
you will be heard here, you are loved.

Let us accept the gift of each person -
as well as the gifts of this crisp and colorful season.  

In faith we pray, Amen.

(c) 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Just a quick post, but something that's been on my mind is how essential it is to be allies in the work for social justice. In the wake of the hilarious letter written by Minnesota Viking punter Chris Kluwe (and its subsequent family-friendly version) Outsports recently posted this article online, about gay-supportive NFL football players.

So, I'm constitutionally unable to be a Vikings fan. Who on "my" home team (The Green Bay Packers) is a supporter? C'mon, guys, anyone? Document the evidence, please...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

(Inspired by The Buddha's "Five Remembrances," this was our meditation this morning. Note that our meditations typically include a good minute or so of silence ... )


Spirit of Life and Love, always present and as close as our next breath… We come together from our separate lives on this crisp morning, in this season of harvest and planting, with our great joys and deepest sorrows, our triumphs and failures, our strengths and our weaknesses.

Some of us are feeling the weight of our years, earning a bone-deep awareness that we all age and grow older. Some of us are coping with illness, leaning into an understanding that we all eventually struggle with ill-health of mind, body, and spirit. Some of us are grieving the loss of a loved one to death, and, at whatever stage of grief, learning that none of us lives forever. Some of us are coping with changes – big or small, changing schools, changing jobs, changing relationships – and coming to terms with these changes. Some of us are wishing we’d done something, or said something, and feeling the consequences of our lack of action or speech. And as always, concerns for our community and our larger world are very much with us.

We come together in one body, to hear words of wisdom and inspiration, to seek comfort and hope. We come together to remember that we are alive, that illness need not always mean incapacitation, that love survives even death. We come to remember that change can signal bright new beginnings. And in the silence, we consider these thoughts, and the wisdom offered by own hearts and souls…


Spirit of Life and Love, help us live every moment we have to the fullest, and rejoice in times of wellness. Let us grieve honestly and fully, and accept the changes we experience, whether or not we wished for them. And most of all, Spirit, let there be endless opportunities to match our actions with our values. May we always feel the movement of the Spirit of Life moving through us and connecting us to everything that is; and may we come to know the peace and hope that abides when we realize that deep connection.

Blessed be and Amen.

(c) September, 2012, Earthbound Spirit